Skin cancer may be your biggest workplace safety risk
By Cancer Council NSW
If you work outdoors you are at increased risk of getting skin cancer. Outdoor workers are exposed to UV radiation from the sun for much longer periods than people who work indoors, and it is this accumulation of exposure that increases your risk of skin cancer. UV levels across NSW are now high enough (3 and above) to cause permanent damage to your skin.
95-99% of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to UV radiation and around 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers are linked to workplace exposure every year.
Slip on sun protective clothing to cover as much of your skin as possible. Choose long pants and long sleeved collared shirts.
Slop on SPF30 or higher sunscreen on those parts of the body which cannot be covered with clothing such as your face, back of the neck and hands.
Remember to reapply at least every 2 hours.
Slap on a broad-brimmed hat, not a cap. Brim attachments are available for hard hats and helmets. Legionnaire-style hats are a good alternative if a broad-brimmed hat doesn’t suit your type of work, because they protect the ears and neck.
Seek shade. Reduce your exposure to the sun with shade whenever possible, especially during breaks. This will also help reduce your likelihood of heat stress.
Slide on some sunglasses – close fitting, wrap-around styles are best.
Get the right gear
Every job’s easier with the right tools and equipment. Here are the essentials you need to keep yourself safe and protected from UV radiation. With no protection, your skin may burn in ten minutes.
Wear proper protective clothing
Protective clothing is one of the best forms of sun protection, particularly if it covers a large area of your skin. Unlike sunscreen which can rub or sweat off, clothing provides consistent sun protection.
Choose the right clothing. If the fabric’s weave is tight, it will block more UV radiation than open weave or a sheer fabric. Workwear is rated with a UV Protective Factor or UPF, similar to sunscreen.
Long sleeved UPF50+ work shirts provide maximum protection from UV radiation and there are now some excellent long-sleeved shirts available with ventilation and fabrics designed to keep you cool in summer.
Short sleeved shirts are still much better than a singlet or no top at all. If you opt for a short sleeved shirt just make sure you put lots of sunscreen on skin that your shirt does not cover.
Long pants protect your entire legs, and are a better option than shorts. Otherwise choose long shorts that come to the knee and apply sunscreen to uncovered skin.
Choose medium to dark fabric colours as they absorb more UV than whites and are cooler than blacks. If the fabric is UPF50+ it does not matter what colour it is.
Replace your shirts once or twice a year
Use sunscreen everyday
No sunscreen provides 100% UV protection so use clothing and a sun safe hat to cover most of your skin for best protection. Always apply sunscreen to any skin that is not covered.
Apply sunscreen according to the instructions on the bottle. Most people don’t use enough and don’t get maximum protection. Always apply a generous amount – one teaspoon for each arm and leg and a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears..
Protect your lips, a common skin cancer site. A zinc or SPF30+ lip balm will provide longer-lasting protection than cream.
Look for a SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30+.
Buy a broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen.
Look for AUST L number or AS/NSZ2604:98 on the label.
Check the expiry date.
Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going outdoors to clean, dry skin. This will give the sunscreen time to bond with your skin.
Reapply sunscreen approximately every two hours.
Broad-brimmed hats give you the best protection.
Baseball caps leave your nose, cheeks, chin, neck and ears exposed.
For sun protection, not all hats are equal. Broad-brimmed hats provide the best level of protection covering all of the head and a maximum amount of the face and neck. Bucket hats are also very effective, as are legionnaire style hats.
Are your sunnies up to the job?
Sunglasses don’t just reduce glare; they also protect your eyes from damage such as cataracts, photo keratopathy or even cancer.
If you work outdoors, use protective glasses that comply with AS/NZS 1337. These offer both impact and sun glare protection.
Look for lens category 2 – 4 UV protection rating on the label or tag or EPF 9 or 10.
The best protection comes from a larger frame that fits close to your face.
Prescription glasses tend to have some level of UV protection built into them, but talk to your optometrist to see if you need added protection or if you want your glasses to also meet the impact requirements of occupational eye protection.
Window tinting on vehicles protects against UV radiation
Tradies who spend a lot of time in their vehicles can be exposed to high levels of UV radiation. Laminated windscreens can block almost all UV radiation however glass used for side and rear windows can be less protective. Clear or tinted window film is available and can reduce the amount of UV radiation transmitting into a vehicle by over 99% (provided the windows are wound up).
You may be eligible to claim sun protection gear on your tax
The Australian Taxation Office allows the cost of work-related sun protective clothing to be claimed as an expense for many outdoor workers. To see if you are eligible to claim, contact the Australian Taxation Office on 13 28 61, check out their website, or speak to your accountant / tax advisor.
Remember, to claim these expenses, you need to keep receipts for each purchase you make during the year.
Early detection can save your life
The earlier skin cancer is found and treated, the better the chance of preventing the cancer spreading and causing serious illness or death. This is certainly the case for melanoma, but also applies to basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) which currently cause more than 500 deaths in Australia each year.
Your GP is important in the fight against skin cancer but the person most likely to find your new skin cancer is you. Know your skin and check it regularly – as often as recommended by your GP. For more information, read our guide for recognising skin cancers.
UV levels change throughout the day so be sure to check the forecast for where you are working.
Download our SUNSMART App so you always know what the UV levels are in your local area.
The UV index can be high even on cloudy or cool days, so always take precautions whatever the weather.